Channel still considered itself as much a scheduled airline as an IT charter operator in the mid-60s and in 1964 had attempted to acquire a network of routes from the new East Midlands and Stansted airports. It was largely unsuccessful in its immediate aims but nonetheless ordered HS748s which could also operate from grass strips at Rochester, Ipswich and Portsmouth. The HS748s were configured with 58 seats - 8-10 more than other airlines managed to fit!
In September 1966 Channel ordered four new BAC One-Eleven 400s, along with two options, in a £5.5 million order. The first aircraft, G-AVGP, joined on June 15, 1967. At the time the airline was still receiving ex-Continental Viscount 812s. The future looked bright and the airline exercised the two extra One-Eleven options and went one step further. Though it had been expected that the airline would order the larger One-Eleven 500, instead they turned to the HS Trident 1E and ordered two in October 1967.
Hawker Siddeley worked hard to secure the Trident order and promised Channel improved economics. They would seat 139 passengers in a very tight configuration and had the range to get to the Canary Islands. Channel's first Trident arrived in May 1968 along with its second One-Eleven - G-AWEJ. This aircraft replaced the airline's first One-Eleven and was briefly partnered with another G-AWKJ in 1969. The jets were welcome, however they suffered range and payload issues at Southend (as well as noise complaints surrounding their ear splitting take-offs) which forced Channel to switch its main operating base to Stansted.
The addition of the jets allowed Channel to become one of the 5 biggest package charter airlines in the UK operating from bases at Southend, Stansted, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Manchester and Teeside. In addition the airline held contracts to carry tourists from Berlin to the Med.
Unfortunately the arrival of the new jets coincided with major economic problems in the UK which included the devaluation of Sterling. Channel was forced to retrench and cancel orders for 3 Tridents and 3 more One-Elevens. The airline was also suffering from slowing demand for its cross-channel services as people increasingly flew to the Mediterranean. These longer routes were increasingly unsuitable for the airline's Viscounts and even its Tridents were outclassed by the arrival of newer jets like Britannia's Boeing 737s.
Channel responded to these threats by aggressively signing up Lyons Tours for a £5 million deal covering three years of operations for which it would purchase a fleet of 5 Comet 4s. The first Comets arrived in 1970 and reverting to its old type they weren't repainted into Channel colours. Increasingly charter operations were forming the majority of the airline's services however the airline was beginning to suffer financially due to the Stansted move, its mixed jet fleet and especially because of the heavy seasonality its network created, which seriously disrupted cash flows during the winter months. Spare parts availability started to become an issue and one of the Tridents spent much of 1971 on the ground whilst the Comets also sufferred from reliability issues. This in turn affected the profitability of the charter operations and further weakened the airline.
The situation became increasingly hopeless and the airline sold both its Tridents to BEA in December 1971. G-AVYB was leased to BEA’s Newcastle subsidiary Northeast Airlines which merged into the parent in 1976. Service continued with British Airways until YB was withdrawn in August 1980. Broken up in 1981 the fuselage was used for training by the SAS until at least 1993.
By January 1972 the airline's main lender was looking for a buyer but none could be found and the airline was grounded in February 29, 1972. The airline's assets were sold off to Dan Air (4 Comets and the Berlin contracts), BA (a One-Eleven), Alidair (3 Viscounts and spares) and Lonmet Aviation (Ipswich Aerodrome). It was a sad end for a pioneering airline, but its mantle was taken up by other pioneers like Britannia and Dan Air. The UK charter market continued to thrive until the arrival of the internet and real low-cost airlines in the early 2000s.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: